One common shortcoming that top management in a lot of companies is accused of is that they give too much attention to details (i.e. sometimes they micromanage), and they are unable to see the big picture.
For example, if you think about the financial crisis of 2007-08, people kept making stupid bets about the mortgage market because they didn’t look at mortgages in the overall context of economy. They looked at their models, made sure they “converged” to a zillion digits, the math was perfect, etc. And priced. And conveniently forgot some of the “big assumptions”.
I think this has to do with the typical promotion procedures in corporations, and an assumption that people who are good at one kind of stuff will continue to be good at other kinds of stuff.
For example, in the early part of your career, in order to move up the “corporate ladder”, it’s important to show your skills at being able to give attention to detail, to be able to see the “little picture”, be careful and precise, and so on. For these are the kind of skills that makes one successful in the lower-level jobs.
Now, my hypothesis is that being good at details and being good at seeing the big picture are at best orthogonal, and at worst negatively correlated. I base this hypothesis on some initial reading on stuff like Attention Deficit & Hyperactivity Disorder and related topics.
So, when you promote people based on their ability to be good at details (which is required at lower levels of the job), you will end up with a top and middle management full of people who are excellent at details, and whose ability in seeing the big picture is at best questionable. Explains well, right?
I don’t know what can be done to rectify this. Promotion is too important to take away as an incentive for good performance at junior levels. Some organizations do institute procedures where for higher promotions you also need to show skills that show your big picture skills. But these are only for people who have already reached middle management, which is people who are good at details, which means that a large part of those who started at the bottom, and who are “big picture people” would have already fallen at the wayside by then.
Does my hypothesis make sense? If it does, what do you think needs to be done to get big picture thinkers at the top?
6 thoughts on “Big Management and Big Picture”
Exactly my first thoughts too when i read this article..
every one gets promoted to his level of incompetence..
Also relevant –
Actually, it is the detail-oriented hedge fund managers like Michael Burry who were the first to recognize the sub-prime crisis
This is an interesting observation and often good companies like GE try to use ‘Competency based promotions’. So in this case,they list down the competencies required for a particular position (seeing big picture, cross functional knowledge etc) and then evaluate candidates based on this.
Your theory also closely resembles Peter’s principle which states that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”, meaning that employees tend to be promoted until they reach a position at which they cannot work competently. It was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous  treatise which also introduced the “salutary science of hierarchiology.”
Below is the reference link:
On the ADHD part, going by some ‘experts’ who seemingly have good common sense, ADHD and at least creative thinking levels and perhaps the ability to look at big picture are more of a coincidence noticed NOT in all of those with ADHD.